HOUSTON — The ACLU of Texas is calling on the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct to open an investigation of Harris County District Judge Michael McSpadden following comments he made to the Houston Chronicle openly admitting racial bias against young Black male defendants who appear before his court. Pending the outcome of the investigation, the ACLU of Texas is also calling for Judge McSpadden’s recusal from any case involving a Black defendant until that investigation is concluded.
“If there remained any doubt that the deck is stacked against people of color in our criminal justice system, Michael McSpadden just dispelled it,” said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas. “When a sitting judge feels comfortable enough to admit openly and on the record that he uses bail orders to jail Black defendants on the assumption they can’t be trusted, it’s time to take action. This kind of flagrant racism has no place in our justice system. The Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct needs to take the first step toward rooting it out, and Judge McSpadden should voluntarily step down.”
In his comments to the Houston Chronicle, Judge McSpadden admitted that he instructed hearing officers to deny personal recognizance bonds to young Black male defendants because they are “tainted” and “not good risks.” He went on to say that Black defendants do not “[get] good advice from their parents,” but rather bad advice from “rag-tag organizations like Black Lives Matter.” Such an admission demonstrates that Judge McSpadden is in violation of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct and may constitute grounds for his removal from office.
“Judge McSpadden’s remarks are inexcusable, but not at all surprising for those of us who know the justice system well,” said Anthony Graves, smart justice initiatives manager for the ACLU of Texas and author of the recently released Infinite Hope: How Wrongful Conviction, Solitary Confinement, and 12 Years on Death Row Failed to Kill My Soul. “Black men have always been overwhelmingly and disproportionately targeted for punishment by the police and the courts for no reason other than the color of our skin. If our justice system ever hopes to live up to the ideals that are supposed to guide it, we have to stamp out everywhere this sort of unfairness, injustice and inequality that Black defendants face in courtrooms like Judge McSpadden’s,” said Graves, who was exonerated after spending 18 ½ years in prison and 12 ½ on death row.